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The Happening (2008)
A terrible screenplay and poorly acted
"The Happening", which was released here in France today is a terrible screenplay and poorly acted. The writer/director failed to make a complete film, which employs any semblance of cinematic language.
Normally well-written, taut and engaging screenplays, like good editing should be invisible. They should fit seamlessly into the film-making process, but unfortunately for "The Happening", the writing, construction of drama and dialogue are so bad that the awful screenplay is apparent from the very first scene. The introduction of the main conflict is visually well done, but the writers never bother to move the story past its main conflict, thus making the film flat line dramatically very early on. Essentially nothing ever happens except the main characters totally unbelievable reactions to "The Happening" (i.e. the main conflict).
We, the audience are not emotionally attached to the characters because the screenplay gives us no reason to be. The film's sub-conflicts are basically non-existent and the character conflicts (emotional relationships) are contrived and hollow. The screenplay provides no emotional outlet or connection at all. Simply said this is a screenplay that should have been better vetted for emotional connection between the audience and characters on screen. We don't care about what's 'Happening' because the people to whom it is 'Happening' mean nothing to us. Someone should provide the screenwriter with a copy of Aristotle's "Poetics".
The dialogue is over the top, simplistic, explicit and begs the question - does anyone really talk like that? Line after line the screenplay falls further and further apart. The characters tell us what we can already see. Therefore the screenplay doesn't trust that the cinematic language of images is doing its job. The beauty of cinema is that with moving pictures we can say thousands upon thousands of words with each frame and never actually employ dialogue. This screenplay obviously does not respect that logic and in many ways flies right in the face of it. The film would be a lot better if the characters just simply reacted to the events unfolding around them.
The acting is unwatchable. No one in this film gives a good performance. The acting, similar to the screenplay is devoid of emotion. No one is reacting like a real person. Each character seems to be emotionally empty. They don't seem nervous that millions of people are dying, they're not hysterical (which doesn't not mean they should yelling and screaming) or even realistic. They at no time in the film seem desperate with the desire and hope to live. At times they try to appear upset, but it is so shallow that the viewer is left flat. Each actor delivers their lines without any regard or reaction to the actor in front of them. It is so bad that it makes one wonder whether or not the actors were actually on set together or just acting with stand-ins.
The sub-text of the film, which is meant to lead us to the theme mankind is destroying the planet, is blatant and lacks finesse. Pretty quickly into the first act we know that the plants are taking their revenge (I wish I was making this up, but this really is the plot of the film). The screenplay, dialogue and acting do nothing to merit the ending in which a professor on television is yelling about 'how we humanity are guilty for the recent horrors and need to pay better attention to our physical environment.' The films is just waving its fists and again telling us what to think rather than earning our trust. It tells us what its about. Basically the film underestimates us every step of the way.
The film never ventures into any kind of serious depth. It stays on the most basic, one-dimensional level. Plants are killing us - run away.
Blame for this film's failures should be squarely laid upon the director and producers. The director is guilty of writing and directing a very bad and unbelievable film. The producers are responsible for allowing the director to get away with this. Someone on the creative team and/or on the production side should have sounded an alarm when they read the screenplay. When the screenplay got into production one of the producers should have watched the rushes and pulled the director aside and said something.
"The Happening" is a failure on the most basic and important of cinematic levels. It does nothing to win, earn and deserve the audience's emotional and intellectual trust. It doesn't employ image as its main storytelling tool. It just tries to be clever, but is actually quite silly.
I for one don't care who the writer or director is, they must listen to their production and creative team. Film-making is a collaborative experience, but in the case of this film it is clear that no one bothered to be honest with Mr. Shyamalan.